HILL POLL: Majority of voters reject Medicare cuts to reduce deficits

Voters don’t want their existing or future Medicare benefits cut even if it would help reduce the national debt, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill.

Fifty-three percent of likely voters say they would not accept the idea of reduced benefits, while 33 percent said they would and 14 percent were unsure.

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Voters also were cool to a hike in the Social Security retirement age. Forty-seven percent of likely voters said they would oppose raising the retirement age for people who are now 55 years of age or younger, while 39 percent said they could accept an increase.

The findings cast light on the difficulties Republicans face in pressing for reforms to Medicare, a leading driver of the budget deficit, which is projected to hit a record $1.6 trillion this year. Other national polls have also suggested many voters oppose changes to Medicare.

House Republicans have approved a fiscal 2012 budget crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would essentially turn Medicare into a voucher program for people who are now 55 or younger. Instead of government-run Medicare, the GOP budget would have seniors buy private insurance plans, with the government subsidizing a portion of the bill.

Congressional Democrats and the White House are attacking the budget, which Ryan predicted would be used as a political weapon against his party.

President Obama has said the Ryan plan would “end Medicare as we know it,” and Democratic campaign committees have used the two-week recess to play up confrontations at GOP town-hall events over Medicare.

Polls showing voters don’t want changes to Medicare could also affect the work of a bipartisan group of six senators drafting legislation based on the recommendations of Obama’s debt commission, which proposed cost-sharing and insurance restrictions to reduce Medicare spending.

While the poll shows voters don’t view changes to Medicare favorably, raising taxes on the wealthy is a different story.

Sixty-four percent of those polled said they favor raising taxes on people earning more than $250,000 a year in order to reduce the nation’s deficits. Only 29 percent opposed higher taxes for those earners, with 7 percent saying they weren’t sure.

Republicans say that no taxes should be raised to reduce the deficit, while the White House would end former President George W. Bush’s tax breaks for families with incomes above $250,000 and individuals with income above $200,000.

Voters were split in The Hill poll over which party is more to blame for the growing national debt. Thirty-four percent blamed Democrats, while 33 percent said Republicans are more to blame. Twenty-nine percent said both parties are equally to blame, and 5 percent were not sure.

The poll found a divide on gender, with 35 percent of women saying Republicans are more to blame compared to 27 percent blaming Democrats. Male respondents were more likely to blame Democrats; 41 percent of men said Democrats are more to blame compared to 30 percent who said Republicans are.

When lawmakers return to Washington this week, they will continue a debate on whether to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department has said must be done by July 8.

Polls show voters disapprove of raising the debt ceiling, and the White House and leaders of both parties face pressure to accept deep spending cuts along with a hike in the debt limit. This sets up a difficult negotiation between the White House and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Likely voters are split in their assessment of the chances that Democrats and Republicans will raise the debt ceiling by early July.

Forty-six percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat confident the ceiling would be raised, compared to 47 percent who said they were not very confident or not confident at all that a deal would be reached. Seven percent said they were not sure.

Democrats were more optimistic than Republicans, with 57 percent of Democrats saying they were very or somewhat confident the debt limit would be raised, while 54 percent of Republicans said they were not very or not at all confident that would happen. Independents were narrowly split, with 49 percent saying they were not very or at all confident of a debt-ceiling increase and 44 percent saying they were confident.

The national survey of 1,000 likely voters by Pulse Opinion Research was conducted on April 28 and has a margin of error of three percentage points.

For full data, please click here.

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